Gay soldiers not an issue in Holland Published on : 19 March 2010 – 1:23pm | By John Tyler (Photo: FlickR/sambro

25 Apr

Retired US Marine General John Sheehan got one thing right in his testimony to the US Congress: gays serve in the Dutch military. But it takes a foreigner to point that out. Here in The Netherlands, gays have served in the military for decades.

General Sheehan blamed the fall of the UN enclave in Srebrenica in 1995, which led to the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims, partly on the fact that homosexuals served in the Dutch military.

“That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War Two. The Dutch army allowed homosexuals and you know what happened there.”

The retired general made these comments during a hearing considering whether to lift the US ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that allows homosexuals to serve in the military only if they keep quiet about it.

The reaction here in The Netherlands has been a universal, ‘huh?’ From the current Foreign Minister to the Defence Minister at the time of the Srebrenica massacre; from leaders of unions representing soldiers to the former army commander; all have said that General Sheehan’s remarks do not have the slightest basis in reality.

The Dutch caretaker Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said via Twitter that he was amazed at the ex general’s comments – saying they reflected more about the discussion around homosexuals in the US army than anything else.

Minister of Defense Eimert van Middelkoop twittered: “scandalous and unbefitting a soldier”. And the Dutch ambassador to the US, Renee Jones-Bos, added in a statement on the embassy’s website that she “couldn’t disagree more” with Sheehan’s claims.

“I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, such as in Afghanistan at the moment’,’ she said.

Sensitive issue
The fall of the enclave is a sensitive issue here. It has been thoroughly studied, by the military as well as by civilian commissions. One such study brought about the fall of then Prime Minister Wim Kok’s government.

The fact that such a massacre could take place in an area under the responsibility of Dutch soldiers has had lasting effects on Dutch military and civilian policy, and will always remain a open wound in the Dutch national psyche.

Yet among all the introspection and adjustments made in the wake of Srebrenica, the issue of homosexuality never came up.

Only today, after General Sheehan’s statement, there was some speculation that he might have exaggerated an off-the-cuff remark by a Dutch commander, perhaps using the term ‘gay’ as a derogatory reference to the military’s failure to protect Muslims in Srebrenica.

General Sheehan referred to this commander, possibly General Henk van den Breemen, as his source that gays in the Dutch military partly caused the fall of Srebrenica. In a written statement, retired General Van den Breemen says that is nonsense.

Gay army
Gays have been allowed to serve in the Dutch army since 1974. Before that, there were gays in the military under a version of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

Today, about seven to ten percent of the soldiers serving in the Dutch military are homosexual (no specific data available).



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